Mercy’s HHFL journey from life as a helpless orphan to a university student
Pictured above: (left) Mercy in her first months at HHFL in 2006 and (right) a BComm student and paid Faculty Student Assistant at Kenya’s Strathmore University in 2013 thanks to The First Group Academic Scholarship Fund!
Written by Mercy Achieng
2006 – that was the year I thought my world had crushed. Mum passed on, leaving five siblings and all we knew at the time was that it was over: School, city life, happy times, were over. At that time, further education was an unaffordable illusion and I often feared that I would end up like many of my cousins; who drop out of grade seven, join grandma in upcountry and eventually get married at a tender age having failed to further their education.
Through this stormy phase of life, Mama Hanne & Baba Ted found us. Helpless as we were, they saw a future and better life for us. They vowed to sacrifice their entire life, for the sole purpose of making our hearts smile, educate us and make us realize that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
My second parents, Mama Hanne, Baba Ted and Mama Marianne, my long-term sponsor, gave me a home, supported me throughout high school and most importantly taught me to have a purpose in life. This family, HanneHowardFund-Lenana is the only family I have.
I am now in what I call the ‘bright phase ‘of my life. I am in my first year at Strathmore University, one of the most prestigious, most expensive universities in Kenya, a center of excellence! I am pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce and Management Science thanks to The First Group Scholarship Fund.
One month into my degree course, I got my first contractual paying job with the Faculty of Management and Commerce in the university as a faculty student assistant. With the high tuition fee, this was a huge relief. I am able to pay for my living expenses like transport, food and pocket money. Spending time at work during the day meant that I had to enroll for evening/night classes. I initially felt intimidated by over half of my classmates who were very familiar with the corporate world but I soon realized that potential is all that matters, and I had to come out of the shell I hid in.
I joined Strathmore Community Outreach Programme (COP), whose vision is to become a vehicle of change in Kenya’s society through initiation of projects and activities that aim at tackling problems and challenges within our communities and providing solutions that improve the quality and sustainable lifestyle for these communities. In COP we go out every Saturday for outreach work; environmental clean-ups, offer guidance & counseling to kids in streets and children homes among others. Charity begins at home, thus being a COP member, despite the clubs tight schedule, I have to market HanneHowardFund-Lenana. We, among all other organizations need the outreach from Strathmore. This coming August holiday, depending on COP’s theme of the month, COP might find a slot for HHFL.
I am sure it will be an amazing experience for the entire HHFL family! Giving back to the community is something that I have known to be the best expression of love because it leaves a lasting impression that you have made a heart smile!
A better future and success is my goal. I am working smart in school, attaining good grades, socially improving my life and making it a blessing and service to others, as inspired by Mama Hanne & Baba Ted. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior once noted that not everyone can be famous but all can be great because greatness is determined by service, you only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.
Sponsorship is the reason I am here today. Mama Marianne has given me a chance in life, right from the start until The First Group Scholarship Fund began supporting my University education last year.
Please consider sponsoring an HHFL child today and make a difference that could change the direction of another smart, committed and deserving child forever. Look how it changed mine.
After much guidance and coaching, we are very proud and excited to announce that nine HHFL high school graduates have been accepted into fine Kenyan colleges, universities and technical schools this year to pursue promising, exciting and relevant careers.
This is the first time HHFL has supported such a big number of kids in post-secondary institutions making 2013 the heaviest year of expenses to date!
But in our opinion, we will not have done our job properly without giving the HHFL youth marketable and employable skills so they can become truly self-reliant.
Here is a career and course breakdown including some videos that share the personal stories, showcase the shining personalities and offer pleas for support! Please consider supporting these talented, deserving youth in the last leg of their educational journey.
John Mutahi: 4-year Degree in Design at Polytechnic University in Kenya
Gabriel Lando and Samuel Waweru: 3-year Diploma in Aeronautical Engineering at Nairobi Aviation College.
Brian Wechuli and James Okwemba: 3-year Diploma in Hospitality & Hotel Management at Nairobi Aviation College and Strathmore University, respectively.
Cedric Odendo: 2-year Diploma in Nursing at Technical school
Carolyne Wangare: 6-month Diploma in Hospitality at Technical school
Mercy Njoki: 6-month Diploma in Catering and Banqueting at Technical school
Simon Kanyenze: 6 month Diploma in Fitness and Nutrition at Technical School
I joined HHFL in 2009 and since then my life has changed. This was a priviledge that I have always acknowledged. HHFL has taught me many things that worked hand in hand in equipping me with life skills.
Through the assistance of HHFL, I was able to complete my high school education in 2012 with a grade that enabled me to pursue my dream career, graphic design. I am joining University in September to pursue a four year degree program in Design.
With Moyra Earnshaw’s guidance and support, I decided to go job hunting to help pay my way. In May, I landed a part-time job as a Barista at Nairobi Java House.
The job application was online and I applied not knowing that I would be lucky. I can say that through the skills that I have acquired at HHFL such as maintaining eye contact, projecting my voice and expressing myself well helped me in the interview. I passed the interview with confidence and I got the job! I was very happy because this is my first job.
I love working at the coffee house and am learning a lot. Java Nairobi House is training me to become a good Barista. I have learned how to make lattes and cappuccinos and I give people their caffeine fix; it is an awesome experience.
The experience is teaching me that it is possible to be self reliant at my age. I am saving the money I make to pay for my living expenses at University as well as help my family. It feels great to be able to contribute something back after all that has been invested in me.
Finally I can say that I could not have come this far without the support from the extended HHFL family. I am always proud to be a member of the HHFL family!
Please consider supporting me to help realize my dream. I promise, I won’t let you down!
We are delighted to introduce and welcome Caroline Kiugo as HHFL’s new project manager in Kenya. Carol has been hired on a contract basis for a period of 9 months to provide team leadership and support the growing operational needs of the HHFL organization.
Previously, Carol worked as Project Coordinator for the University of Illinois Student Nutrition Program at Insta Products.
Before this, she was Project Officer for AMREF Kenya’s Social Integrated Development Program in the Turkana area.
In close collaboration with HHF Canada, Carol is leading and overseeing the operational function at HHFL as well as supporting the marketing and fundraising needs.
We are excited to welcome Carol on board and look forward to developing a strong working relationship in the months to come!
Written by Faith Wanja.
I was born in the Lenana slum in Nairobi and am the youngest in a family of seven. My siblings are all much older then I am, most of them already had families of their own when I came along. I have few recollections of my father who left the family or died when I was a baby. My mother took care of all of us plus three grand children left orphaned when one of my sister’s died of AIDS in 2005.
It was this advent that initially brought Mama Hanne and Baba Ted into the slum in 2006. My mother was often forced to beg in order to provide for all of us, but especially to buy the medicines for my dying sister. She approached Hanne and Ted and the rest is history as they say. That encounter not only brought relief to us as a family but brought HHFL to life, which in turn brought hope and dreams of a better future to many of us.
I became an orphan in 2008 when my dear mother died of exhaustion, literally. Even though, I was stricken by sadness and pain, I quickly realized my incredible good luck. I not only belonged to an organization that offered me safety and an education, but also gave me the solace of knowing that I belonged to the loving HHFL family.
I moved into the HHFL hostel and enjoyed my primary years at St. Nicholas Private Primary School where I did fairly well. As one of the oldest girls in the Hostel I quickly asserted myself as a mentor and bigger sister to the little ones. I also helped with the Saturday extra curricular programs and clubs. Scouts and drama were my favourites. Through these activities and the coaching of Mama Hanne and other staff, I started developing leadership qualities I did not know I had.
I became a dedicated member of the HHFL scout group and drama club. In January 2010 I left for boarding high school. But in 2011, my life changed as I fell in love with a man named Peter, fell pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy named Denzel who is now 2 years old. I was 16 and in Form 2.
My life crashed as I was forced to leave school, as Kenyan rule dictates. I moved in with Peter. Things became tough immediately, as neither of us had the financial resources nor the expertise to cope by ourselves. I felt profoundly ashamed, which led to a lot of deceiving and lying. I fully know and understand today that my/our behaviour was wrong. Nevertheless, and though we did not warrant it, HHFL stood by me /us through the next year with all its trial and tribulations. Peter is a very smart and talented human being who finished high school with a B+ and dreams of becoming a game warden. But the situation and stress was too much to bear.
After a year of trying to make it on our own, Denzel and I are back home at HHFL and we feel blessed that HHFL cared enough about us to take us in one more time. Malnutrition was getting the better of us. Both Denzel and I still suffer the after effects from the constant lack of proper nutrition but are getting healthier every day. Peter and I decided to go our own separate ways and focus on our personal development.
I earn my keep by doubling up as the assistant housemother, administrative clerk and kids mentor. I am home schooling as it has become crystal clear to me that getting a high school diploma is essential if I am going to fulfil my potential. I am also taking advanced computer lessons and learning how to type. I am focused on higher education and dream of going to university one day.
I can’t thank HHFL, HHFC and all of its donors for believing in all of us! You are not only making a difference in our lives, but that of our children and partners! I love you all.
Written by Simon
In this world everything that survives must have its origin. To me it is unbelievable to reach where I am today. I never thought one day I would be this far – all the way from my origins as a shepherd in the countryside to the rough streets of Nairobi. It was not easy. It was I and I alone. I had no one to depend on but I never lost hope in life because I believed in God’s will that one day one time things would come to change.
I joined HHFL in 2008. I was welcomed with happiness where I felt at home and I became an active member of the family. This is the place where I belong and I have known as my second home.
HHFL sent me back to school after spending six years out of school due to lack of fees. I graduated from high school last year 2012, which to me was a miracle. I never thought one day I would go back school and graduate.
After school, HHFL gave me the chance to join a Kenyan fitness college, where I am pursuing a 6 month Diploma in fitness and nutrition. This is my passion. I have spent a lot of time training the HHFL kids on weekends and during school holidays and this has inspired so much. I will do my best to be the best that I can be. I will be a good example to my young brothers and sisters in the HHFL family.
As I study, I will still be doing a lot of exercise with the kids even after I graduate from my college at the end of September. I cannot wait to see myself as a prominent fitness manager somewhere in Nairobi or anywhere God will take me.
Whitney Public School’s Grade 1/2 teacher Alissa Andersen in Toronto worked together with HHF supporter, champion and mother of 6-year-old Avery, Victoria Turner, to design and carry out a classroom charity initiative in the form of an art auction entitled “An Afternoon of Art and Giving” for HHFL’s benefit.
As part of a two-month effort, Alissa used the information from the HHF websites to teach her students about Kenya and HHFL life as part of the Social Studies curriculum.
One of the unique benefits of aligning with an organization like HHF is that teachers and students around the world can directly access the project team and HHFL kids. The Whitney children held lively Skype calls with the children at HHFL so the children could exchange stories about their lives, expand their world views and learn from each other. Alissa described the Skype calls as a way for her students to make a direct connection as well as make the learning experience come alive.
Throughout the month of May, both the students at Whitney and the HHFL children prepared artwork for an art auction that was held in the Grade 1/2 classroom at Whitney School. Alissa and her students invited all the parents to “An Afternoon of Art and Giving”, where the artwork was sold raising over $1000 for the HHFL kids! The Whitney students were filled with pride and the experience had a powerful impact. As Victoria’s daughter firmly stated to her mother “I want to make money to give to the HHFL kids”! What more could we hope for.
To inspire teachers to initiate similar efforts, Victoria put together a step-by-step guide called “HHF Class Fundraiser in a Box“. We hope to give teachers the tools and information they need to provide their students with an equally enriching and unique experience.
Huge thanks to Alissa and Victoria for connecting the lives of the students on both sides of the world!
Written by Lyle Makosky, HHFL friend and supporter from Canada
My wife, Joy and I arrived in Nairobi on Feb 7 and were anxious to visit the HHFL site as soon as we could since we have been supporters of the program from the beginning (we run fund raising events for the HHFL a couple times a year among others) but had only seen the progress through viewing this fine website. There is nothing like a real time face to face experience to open your eyes to the scope and reality of what’s happening here.
As we arrived, we were greeted by smiling faces and warm welcomes while Hanne and Ted introduced us to the project children….what a thrill to see them in the project surroundings for the first time! The young children (pre school and primary grades) look healthy with the kind of glow that comes from good nutrition and emotional support and caring…perhaps in degrees they have never experienced. They have a joyful spirit, which is hard to imagine given the desperate conditions they grow up in and the lack of opportunity to experience childhood as we know it in Canada. And yet, they have a joy that is infectious, and an energy that suggests possibility….possibility to engage the future whatever that may be and its evident that the HHFL project is broadening and opening up the opportunity of futures that were only a dream in recent years past. We watched them at play, lined up (smallest to the tallest) for their lunch (they receive three good meals a day), happily consuming the meals, returning to their studies or creative art and play sessions, showing a fine balance of organized discipline and scattered chaos typical of a community of children experiencing life now as they should, knowing that even more is yet to come.
Then on Saturday, a regular visit by a wonderful martial arts/exercise instructor (Salim) who leads the children in a class of high energy exercise and martial arts (kick boxing based) which they love. He is an inspiring man, building their self confidence in themselves, their physicality and their defensive ability, while emphasizing that such a martial art is really about physical and emotional control and is to be used only as a necessity not to express aggression which is a valuable tempering of the tendencies in their challenging street life. In addition, I loved that each session was based on/incorporated a message on life which he cleverly weaved into the process. That day the lesson was on equality and fairness…equal consideration and treatment of both genders and fairness on how one treated others….beautiful!
The following week, one day we spent a hilarious time viewing the pictures and video I had recorded of the children in the exercise class with all of them climbing over each other to see what they looked like on a display screen….much giggling and shy pointing.
The rest of our time there was spent with the recent graduates of Form 4 (High school grad equivalent) who were awaiting their final results. This is an important choice point in their lives and in their path through the HHFL project….that is to consider the key life questions: what is my next step in life, what would I like to do, what higher education and/or training should I, and could I, pursue, where do I go for this education, will I be able to access and afford it given the higher cost and our situation?….compelling questions and the responses and choices made now will affect the rest of their lives. Elsewhere on this web site, the reader will have read of the terrific work done by Alexandra Howard to help these grads to consider these questions, take stock of their skills and hopes and begin the process of identifying a desired training or higher ed path and related selection of colleges etc. We were happy to spend time with each of the grads, helping them where we could, to think through the choices and what would work best for each and what colleges would be best to pursue etc.
It is truly moving to see the hope in their questions about the next phase of their life, to see the desire to become something that a few years ago must have seemed impossible, to see the pride as they spoke of what they have achieved so far and why they believe more is possible. We are so blessed in Canada to have the opportunities and choices available to us, (even if pursuing them is still a big challenge for many) while such choices are often limited to such a small percent of people in African countries and especially those living in slum conditions. Now we can see that this project is breaking through that wall for this first wave of secondary grads, enabling them to consider the unthinkable, to reach for the unreachable. They are a wonderfull group of young people who can access a productive and wholesome life and be a credit to the Kenyan society. It was an honour to see and contribute a small part to their emerging light. We will look forward to following their progress.
For those of you reading this blog and who may be supporting or considering supporting this project, may I say to you in all sincerity….this is a compelling initiative, that is changing the lives of these children and young people on so many levels, each with a story to tell that moves me at the deepest levels and a hope for a possible future that was beyond any of them before. This is something worth supporting and the return can’t be measured for it is about enabling the human spirit.
Ever wanted to climb Africa’s highest mountain?
NOW IS YOUR CHANCE!
The 2013 Mount Kilimanjaro Challenge is being organised privately by a Dubai-based Canadian/British HHF supporter, Jennifer Hardie, who has teamed up with UAE registered charity, Gulf for Good, to plan this exciting adventure challenge from July 5-13th. All funds collected will go toward education and sponsorship for HHF’s disadvantaged children in Kenya!
Make 2013 exceptional and register now!
To register or learn more, visit http://2013kili.wordpress.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Our thoughts and prayers are with Kenya and its people during the upcoming March 4th elections.
Poem written by Carolyne Wangare, 19
As the sun comes up in dawn
As the sun sets down in the evening
As the flowers sprouts up at winter and dries at summer
That’s how peace rises in our hearts and falls when violence begins
Today’s seed will produce tomorrow’s harvest
Today’s lemons are the ingredients for tomorrow’s lemonade
Same as today’s peace will lead to a better, rich
Developed and Beautiful country tomorrow
Peace is not a matter of how strong you are
But it is a matter of taking risks for things that matter most
It is not a matter of fighting for what seems right
But it is a matter of fighting for what is right and fair
Our first leaders fought for peace and freedom
Why do we want to fight for captivity and war?
Just let go of what you are that is hate and violence and
You will become what you might be that is love and peace
Embrace every challenge and have a positive attitude always
For peace is the key to the home of freedom and not captivity
For love and not hate, for justice and not injustice
Lastly for unity and not solitude, peace be with you